How many times do teachers get asked the question, “Why are we doing this?” Or, likewise, how many times do teachers ask, “Why are we doing this?” during a staff meeting or training? There is a learning model that sheds light for students (and teachers) on the purpose behind their learning. This type of learning is called Project-based learning.

What is Project-Based Learning?

is a teaching method where students learn and gain skills through more extensive lessons that take place over a period of time. Students investigate and respond to authentic, meaningful, engaging, and complex questions. These lessons often portray real life situations and work to solve real-world problems. At the end of the project, oftentimes students have the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge by sharing their project with the public or in front of their peers.

How Does Project-Based Learning Impact Student Engagement?

Project based learning positively impacts student engagement for many reasons. For starters, students take an active role in their learning. During a project, students have to communicate with each other and with the teacher as they plan how they will execute their work. Students need to ask questions, participate in discussions, and engage in experiments. Students are held accountable for their role in the project, whether they are in a big or small group. When it comes to student involvement, hiding behind a worksheet is easy; needing to follow through with a project is much more transparent.

Why do Project-Based Lesson Plans Work Well for Remote Learning?

Project-based lesson plans are not just for students in the classroom. Project-based lesson plans work very well for students who are remote learning too. It gives remote students an activity to do that does not necessarily evolve around the computer. It gets the students up and moving, searching for material and supplies, talking to people in their family or members of the community. It doesn’t limit students to the four walls of their classroom, but wherever it is they are able to go while they are distance learning. Below are several ideas for project-based learning that can be done in the classroom or easily adjusted to be completed during distance learning.

Project-Based Learning Ideas to Try with Your Students

Book Study

This project-based lesson idea would be suitable for most all ages. Have the students choose a book they are interested in. Depending on the unit of study, you can require any genre or topic of book (non-fiction, fiction, historical fiction, animals, people, etc). Have them complete their reading and then turn the book into a script. The students can act out their script in front of the class.

Rube Goldberg Project

If you haven’t heard of Rube Goldberg, now is the time to familiarize yourself! He was a famous cartoonist who took simple machines designed to make tasks easier and made them overly complex. Have students design a way to trap a mouse (think of the board game Mouse Trap). Require a designated number of steps that a ball needs to go through before it gets to the part of the machine that releases the trap. Use recycled materials, crafts supplies, or anything the students can find around their house or their school. This hands on project-based lesson is sure to be a highlight for students of many ages!

Another great idea for project-based learning that connects students with peers all across the country, is called Pen Pal Schools. It is a global project-based learning community where students choose a topic they are interested in (oceans, fake news, robics, immigration, etc). The website provides the essential questions, project options, guided questions, and the skills and standards that will be met throughout the course of the learning. What is really great about this format of project-based learning, is that not only do teachers not have to do as much of the heavy lifting in designing the project, but students are also not limited to others in their class that may or may not have the same interests.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

In this project, students will monitor their families’ waste over the course of one week. They will design a plan for recording this information, such as weighing the garbage or counting how many items are thrown away each day. After conducting this home inventory, they will research the effects of garbage on the environment. They will then design a plan for lowering the waste in their household. Students will communicate this plan to their families in a chosen way, such as a letter, a presentation on waste, or a video clip.

Living History

What was it like when we put a man on the moon, when the stock market crashed, or when World War 11 occurred? It is one thing to read about these events, but what if you experienced them during your lifetime? In this lesson, students will interview people who were alive during the time of a chosen historical event. They will create a project that combines the information they research along with their real life interview to more accurately and personally explain this historical event. They can turn their findings into a video trailer, a poster board, or a news broadcast. By not limiting students to one form of showing what they know, students are able to take projects such as these as far as they are capable of going.

Project-based learning helps students eliminate that question of “Why are we doing this,” and instead sheds light on real world problems and issues. It engages students with topics they are interested in and strengthens collaboration and communicate skills. Project-based learning gives students the power to take control of their learning and spend their time studying topics they are passionate about. Try out some of the above ideas with your students and see their excitement come to life.